Faced with a shortage of spare parts for its newest F-15K fighter jets, the Air Force is resorting to stripping components from one jet and putting them into another to keep them flying.
According to documents the Air Force submitted to Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Jang-soo, who heads the National Assembly's Defense Committee, the rate of availability of new spare parts for F-15K fighter jets was 16 percent last year, compared to between 70 to 80 percent for other fighter planes.
The so-called "concurrent spare parts" or CSP rate shows how much out of a year's worth of spare parts in inventory can be used immediately. Sixteen percent is spectacularly low.
Instead, the Air Force has resorted to cannibalizing other F-15K jets.
Instances of cannibalization rose from 39 cases in 2006 to 203 in 2007 and 350 in 2008. Cannibalization is prohibited, but authorization can be given by the top echelon when there is no other option, enabling the Air Force to maintain an operation rate of more than 80 percent for the F-15Ks. But at any given time, five to six of the jets remain grounded because components are missing.
The Air Force cites a lack of forecasts of "components needs" because it claims to be in the early stages of deploying F-15Ks, and blames manufacturer Boeing for failing to hand over the relevant information.
"Cannibalization will decrease with time as we gain more experience operating the F-15Ks, being able to forecast the potential shortage of different components," an Air Force spokesman said. He claimed cannibalization was common in air forces around the world.
But one former Air Force general said, "Cannibalization involves used parts, and when it comes to something as intricate as a fighter jet, a major malfunction could result."